Monday, November 13, 2017

Genesis 20 - “Abraham Grew through Failure”

Abraham grew through failure ... but not in the way we commonly think.  Germany  after  her disastrous engagement in two world wars grew through  through her failure, producing  an economic miracle, and yet  the German people   by and large did not grow  in the knowledge of God  If anything,   Germany  continues to move away from her Reformation heritage.  
We can  grow through our failures, but not necessarily  in a God-ward direction. Many people  learn from their mistakes,  because pain can be  a great teacher.  But Abraham grew  through his failures, and by the pure grace of God  he  grew, step by step  in godliness. 
We shall see in a future  sermon  from   Genesis  22 , that Abraham's faith and  confidence in God  will have  grown significantly by the time that  Isaac has been born. 

We have previously seen that Abraham’s  spiritual walk  with God (Chapters  12 -25)  is a series of ups and downs.   Our walk with God – our experience of sanctification is like climbing one of our famous Namibian sand dunes … three steps forward, one step back. But at least there is progress, and that is what we see essentially in Abraham’s life.    Nothing in the Genesis narrative gives us the indication that Abraham was a perfect man in himself. What we do see however is a wonderful example of a man chosen and loved by God and therefore   kept by the grace of God, and by this grace he was always advancing with God. Essentially, Abraham grew through his failures, and not because he was a good learner, but because God was so very gracious to him. 
It is significant to note that God seldom intervened   when His chosen people, and particularly his leaders   were about to make mistakes. He allowed them to fail, but  because of His love for them He was always ready to redeem them, and so  they did grow and grace and faith.  As already mentioned, the radical faith of Abraham  in the  22nd  Chapter of Genesis  shall humble us greatly. And so Abraham’s understanding of God was not merely a theoretical thing. He did not learn God from books. He learned God from experience.  Abraham learned the painful way    that shortcut’s did not ultimately make things easier for him.  In the struggles with childlessness, the birth of Ishmael did not bring about a solution. In fact the shortcut had made things more difficult.  Obedience does not come naturally to fallen people. We will try anything before we trust God and His Word. And it does us no good. If it were not for the great grace of God, none of us would stand! 

So, then let us trace the developments as they unfold in this chapter:

(i)               Vv.1-2 : Abraham's deception of Abimelech

We are not told why Abraham moved away from Mamre, but in all likelihood the memories associated with God's judgment against Sodom had something to do with it. Should he have moved away, from Mamre near Hebron, in the Promised Land where he had built an altar to the LORD (13:18) in the first place?

All we know is that by moving away he moves to renewed trouble, renewed temptations,   when he moves away from his spiritual haven into the territory of Abimelech[1], whose kingdom is located on the southern boundaries of Israel, towards the desert, the Negev. There is a spiritual lesson here for all of us. One of our great temptations in this life is to give way to our fear and insecurity,  and with it the associated thought that the grass is greener on the other side.  We tend to move from our fruitful and familiar place far too soon  when we sense discouragement, and  we get ourselves into  sticky situations. The safest and best place is close to  the altar of God - close to the people  of God, close to the church.  Moving into pagan  territory is associated with  many temptations , as we see here 

In Chapter 20 we find a repetition of a spiritual problem   found in Chapter 12:10-20. Abraham and Sarah were on the move, and as they  moved through different kingdoms  Abraham feared for his own life, (“They will kill me”  - 12:12; 20:11), and that for a very strange and unusual reason. He feared for his life on account of his wife Sarah, who must have been a particularly attractive woman, even in her older years.   In those years of the patriarchs, people lived much longer than they do today. The genetic material was purer, because the effects of the fall had not yet taken its full toll.  Abraham feared for his own life on account of beautiful Sarah.  He failed to trust God for His protection against the covetous heart of Pharaoh with respect to Sarah in Chapter 12.   And so it is again here with Abimelech of  Gerar  in Chapter 20  who took Sarah  into his Harem. The problem was that Abraham told both men a lie.  He told them that she was his sister , which was  true, but it was half true, and a half truth is also a lie.  He really struggled to trust God in these situations.    
And it was a terrible thing to do to  Sarah at this time  – the year before the promised child was to be born to  them.  But you see, there is much more going on here than meets the eye.   The world , the flesh and the devil conspire  to  keep the Messianic line  going , and  in this Abraham  own  urge towards  self –preservation,  is rooted  in  a much more   idolatrous problem  than that : GOD CAN’T BE TRUSTED  IN MY SITUATION. I HAVE TO  SEE MYSELF THROUGH THIS.  I AM IN CHARGE!   This is the lie  by which Satan originally tempted Eve.
This really begs for further thought.  Abraham, highly esteemed in the 11th chapter of Hebrews, the so called Faith Chapter, fails to trust in God.  How then can God continue to love this man? The answer is important!  God had declared Abraham righteous.  He had sovereignly chosen Abraham. God had justified Abraham, but he had not yet been delivered from his body of sin, and from his sinful environment, and from the influences of Satan.   And so Abraham provides Paul the perfect example of a sinner saved by grace and not by Abraham's perfect righteousness. We know he wasn’t!  Right now he is not trusting God. Right now he is lying. Right now he is putting his wife into a very difficult spot. And therefore there was another basis that commended Abraham to God.  Thank God for His free Grace! 

(ii)             Vv.3-7:  God  comes to Abimelech in a dream and reveals to him what has happened and what he must do.

God’s grace becomes immediately visible as God speaks to Abimelech in a dream.  God will not allow His promises to and through  Abraham and Sarah  to be thwarted. They are crucial instruments in the fulfillment of the Messianic line. And so the grace of God intervenes, when all seems lost.

Abimelech of course has no clue that Sarah was not Abraham’s sister but his wife and he claims innocence in the matter.  But ignorance has never been an excuse in the eyes of God and the law. Abimelech is being called to account for coveting the wife of another man, and God is threatening to kill him.  We find here an ironic contrast between the relatively righteous behaviour of a pagan, Abimelech, and of Abraham, a  so called friend of  God.  And ultimately,  the difference between the two men is not their relative righteousness, but the grace of God, and the position and promises  that  God has assigned to Abraham. The glory of God is at stake here.  And so Abraham is what he is , by the grace of God and for the glory of God . There is nothing meritorious in Abraham  himself. 

And s o God says to Abimelech here, that Abraham is a prophet, a spokesman , a mouthpiece of  God.  This is  first time  that the  word prophet is used in the scriptures. Abraham is called the prophet of the Lord, not  so much because he has the powers to foretell the future, but because Abraham has a special relationship with God, and this is highlighted in his intercession at the end of the chapter.

(iii)           Vv. 4-13:  Abimelech confronts Abraham.

Abraham's sinful heart is exposed by Abimelech. Abraham makes three  pathetic excuses to Abimelech.  
·     v.11    There is no fear of God in this place – which is not true. God has just caused Abimelech to be very afraid .
·       v.12  Sarah is technically my  sister. Yes, that is true – but she is also his covenant wife.   
·       v. 13.  “When God caused me to wander from my father’s house I said to her , “This kindness you must do to me: at every place to which we come , say of me , he is my brother.”    He says God has caused me to wander like this, and “Sarah and I had this prior arrangement” !  He’s blame-shifting and he is not taking responsibility  for his cowardice !

(iv)            Vv. 14-18 : Abraham intercedes for Abimelech.

God in His grace uses  Abraham for His glory  and  in spite of  himself.  Abimelech’s (unknowing) sin is exposed in turn, and God is gracious to forgive this pagan king who has  sinned in ignorance. Abraham is appointed by God to pray for Abimelech and  for his people who have been afflicted by God for this sin, and  as a result of his command  and Abraham's prayer to  the God  who has called him and commanded him , God heals  Abimelech  and his people.

Isn't that an example of God in His grace using us for His glory in spite of ourselves, in spite of our sin?  And what is amazing is that God never mentions Abraham’s unfaithfulness again – not in those texts and expositions    concerning Abraham in  Romans 4, not in Galatians 3 &4, and not in Hebrews 11. In fact in Hebrews 11 Abraham is highly commended for having an extraordinary faith. Never does God refer to his past sin again.  Again we become aware of God’s amazing grace in Christ, and in the end we do see that Abraham grew through failure, not because of his own efforts, but because of the  amazing grace of God. 
Never stop magnifying the grace of God, and never cease to wonder that God loves you despite your many sins and trespasses. God loves you in the Christ in whom you have placed your faith and hope. God  loves you because of Jesus  who has kept the law for you, and  who has forgiven you  all yours sins and iniquities.  And the reason why you can grow in grace at all is because God is at work  in you even in your failures. 

And Jesus, because of His work on the cross is so very worthy of our praise!  And with  that  thought we now  come to the  Communion Table  spread for us.  Amen!

[1] lit. "father" and "king," and may be interpreted in a variety of ways, including "Father-King", "My father is king," or "Father of a king.  In the Pentateuch, it is used as a title for kings in the land of Canaan.  Abimelech was  probably  a dynastic title. We see  that name being applied to another king of Gerar in Genesis 26 : 8 in the time of Isaac.  It is also applied to Achish, the king of Gath, in I Samuel  21: 10  cf. Psalm 34.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Acts 18:18-28 ”People Under the Transforming Power of the Gospel “

RETURN TO ANTIOCH (Acts 18:18-23)

In this passage we find Paul on the way home to Antioch in Syria, where his second missionary journey had begun in 15:36
His return route in the company of Priscilla and Aquila took him via Cenchreae, the port of Corinth. Here he had cut his hair because of a vow. We are not told what the nature of the vow was, but the reference is probably to the Nazirite vow in Numbers 6:1-21. This vow involved abstinence from  drinking wine or eating grapes. The vow also included   the practise of not  cutting one’s hair for a period. After the period of the vow was  over  the individual would go to the temple and make offerings. It certainly was strange that the apostle  Paul  would have done this, since  Paul had been liberated  from   such works  as a means of finding grace from God. And yet Paul did it with the liberated heart that he had! We are free to participate in  meaningful  rituals, as long  as we know that these are  simply a means to  serving our Lord Jesus Christ . 

From Cenchrae  he would  go on to Ephesus, making a short stop over  there and a visit to the local synagogue and  then on to Caesarea, where he greeted the church, and  then back to the sending church  in Antioch where he remained for some time (v.23a).  

In v. 23b  he begins  the third missionary journey  by   revisiting  the regions  of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening the  disciples in the churches  which he had  formerly planted.  Paul then spent more than two years in Ephesus (18:24- 19:41).  From there he went to Macedonia, crossing over to Troas and proceeded by way of Miletus, Tyre and Caesarea on to Jerusalem.   This is Luke’s summary, all in just a few verses.

APOLLOS (Acts 18:24-28)

In Ephesus we meet a new Bible character, a Jew called Apollos, born in Alexandria in Egypt. He had just arrived in Ephesus.  Coming from Alexandria he  would have come from a rich culture and background of learning.   We read that he had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and that he was fervent in spirit and that he spoke and taught accurately  the things  concerning Jesus , though he knew only the baptism of John [v. 25].

I wanted us to consider this man, Apollos, for clearly he is a great  illustration  of a man in the making – a man, with promise, but as yet   with incomplete knowledge, but   in  the process of being formed into a fruitful  gospel  messenger.  It is amazing how much information concerning  Apollos Luke packs into  these few  words.  Let’s see what we can learn about him:

·      He was a Jewish Man (18:24a) :   Apollos was a Jew by birth but lived in Alexandria, a Gentile city.  We know there were large numbers of Jews living in this city at that time.  We will find out that Apollos was a Jew who believed in  the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed  One to come. He had deeply committed himself to this  Messiah by faith.  He was part of the Jewish remnant which John the Baptist  had called out to wait for.

·      He was  an educated man (18:24b):  Apollos  came from Alexandria, the greatest city apart from Rome in that day, founded by  and named after Alexander the Great. This city in Egypt became one of the great centers of Greek thought and culture.  It had one of the finest libraries in the world, the greatest source of learning in the ancient world, consisting of over one half million volumes.   Sadly, this library was destroyed and all this learning was lost to the world. Alexandria produced some of the finest minds in history. Euclid developed the principles of geometry. Archimedes performed his experiments with water and gave us specific knowledge about gravity. Aristhosthenes discovered the formula by which the size of the earth was determined.  
The Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (or the LXX) was put together here  by 70 scholars in Alexandria.  It was from Alexandria that famous Christians such as Athanasius, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria and Origen came.  

The Alexandrian theological school was  noted for her allegorical interpretation[1] of the Old Testament. The two great schools of biblical interpretation in the early Christian church blended philosophical beliefs from Plato's teachings into Christianity, and interpreted much of the Bible allegorically. The founders of the Alexandrian school of Christian theology were Clement of Alexandria and Origen. Origen taught that there were three levels of Biblical interpretation which could be found for every text in Scripture: the literal, the moral, and the spiritual, which contained the more "complete" meaning.  This  is the atmosphere in which Apollos was born and raised.

·       He was an eloquent Man (18:24c) this indicates that Apollos  had learned the art of rhetoric and homiletics.  He was trained in these skills and he was clearly easy to listen to. George Whitefield was like that. Sarah Edwards wrote to her brother about Whitefield’s preaching:  “He is a born orator. You have already heard of his deep-toned, yet clear and melodious voice. O it is perfect music to listen to that alone! . . . You remember that David Hume thought it worth going 20 miles to hear him speak; and Garrick [an actor who envied Whitefield’s gifts] said, ‘He could move men to tears . . . in pronouncing the word Mesopotamia.’ . . . It is truly wonderful to see what a spell this preacher often casts over an audience by proclaiming the simplest truths of the Bible. (Haykin, Revived Puritan, 35–37)[2].    Apollos might have been that kind  of speaker who was so smooth that a person may not agree with what is said but listens anyway because of the flow of speech.

·       He was a  man competent in the Scriptures (18:24d). He knew his OT Bible, one might say. What he knew he preached powerfully and with conviction, but it is evident that  he did not know very much about Christ.  The  phrase  “way of the Lord” is used in  the OT and NT, and refers to the first coming of  the Messiah.[3]  It is a phrase of Messianic expectation.  He  believed in Jesus and he had heard of him  and he  knew how to connect him to the OT, but  that was that.  

·       He was fervent in spirit. (18:25a) : Apollos felt what he preached and taught, and he was able to persuade men. 

·        He knew only the baptism of John (18:25b):  In this sense  Apollos was a typical  OT  believer, and in that sense he  was a  disciple of John the Baptist whose ministry was to prepare the people of Israel for  the coming of Christ the Messiah.  Apollos knew the prophecies  about  Christ but he did not know the fulfillment of these prophecies in Christ.  Apollos was  a believer, but unacquainted  with  the full facts, and as such he had a limited ability, because of lack of knowledge. We cannot preach what we don’t know. 

·      He  was teachable (18:26b): Though he spoke with  boldness in the synagogue where  Aquila and Priscilla ( converted under the ministry of Paul) were  present, it was at once evident to them that  he needed to know the way of God more accurately. They must have filled him in into the full gospel story – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  This learned man was willing to be taught  by two lay people who were tent-makers by trade.  The mark of a spiritual man is that he is always teachable. 
     I learned something about  Abraham  Kuyper (1837-1920). After a sermon, as the congregation was leaving the church, they shook his hand and thanked him for his message, as was the custom.  A woman of the congregation  however refused to shake his hand. Kuyper asked,  “Why?”  She said, “you did not tell them the truth!”  That really shook Kuyper.  Later, he went to see her and it turned out that he really was not a born again believer – a true Christian.  This woman led him to Christ.  From this he went on to become a good pastor and professor of the Free University of Amsterdam.  And eventually he became the Prime minister of the Netherlands.

·    He was truly helpful (18:27) he wanted to go across to Achaia (Corinth), and received encouragement  from the brothers  in Ephesus  to do so.  What is very encouraging is the phrase… “when he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed”.   We know that Apollos went to Corinth and had a great ministry among the Christians there.  He helped, encouraged and strengthened them.  (see 1 Cor. 1:12;  3:5-8).

·       He was  a powerful communicator (18:28) When Apollos  had fully understood the person and work of Christ, he became a powerful evangelist for Christ Jesus and a great  defender of the faith. 


Apollos clearly had ability and learning to begin with. But after he came into full truth about Christ, God used these natural abilities, coupled with the spiritual gifts of preaching and exhortation, to make him one of the great preachers in the first century. 
He really helped others.  
Apollos is  a wonderful example of a growing man, and this  should encourage us greatly. In a sense  everyone  is a worker in gospel  progress. Even  Paul recognized that. 25 years after becoming a believer, Paul wrote, “Not that I have already obtained it or have become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12). He was still in process!

I  look back and wonder how God ever could have used me. I have to keep reminding myself of Paul’s question, “And who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16), and his encouraging confession, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God”  (2 Cor. 3:5).

And  we need to thank  God for the many people along the way that have helped us to get where we  are. Apollos had every reason to thank  God for  Aquila  and Priscilla  who shaped his  thinking in a  new and  significant  way.  
I thank God for the people that took an interest in me when I was a young  Christian.  
Won't you take some time now, and thank God in prayer for the people that  God has used in your life  to urge you on in your faith, and lead you on too new heights in your Christian experience? 

[1] A popular form of literature in which a story points to a hidden or symbolic parallel meaning. Certain elements, such as people, things, and happenings in the story, point to corresponding elements in another realm or level of meaning. The closer the resemblances between the two realms, the more detailed is the allegory. The best allegories are interesting, coherent stories in their own right and through the story provide new insight into the realm they depict (e.g., Pilgrim's Progress and The Narnia Chronicles). Semitic parables, including the Gospel parables, have varying amounts of allegorical elements. Those with many corresponding elements in both realms are properly called allegories.
In Galatians 4:21-31 Paul uses the story of the children of Sarah (Isaac) and Hagar (Ishmael) and the images of Jerusalem above and Mount Sinai as a double allegory, both pairs contrasting the covenant of freedom and the covenant of slavery. This allegory adds an earthy, emotional appeal to Paul's arguments for freedom in Christ.
Perhaps the most famous instance of allegorical interpretation is Origen’s explanation of the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. In the allegorical view, the man who is robbed is Adam, Jerusalem is paradise, and Jericho is the world. The priest is the Law, and the Levites are the Prophets. The Samaritan is Christ. The donkey is Christ’s physical body, which bears the burden of the wounded man (the wounds are his sins), and the inn is the Church. The Samaritan’s promise to return is a promise of the second coming of Christ.
[3] Isa. 40:3; Matt. 3:3

Sunday, October 29, 2017


On the 31st of October 1517, 500 years ago, a Roman Catholic monk of the Augustinean order nailed 95 statements to the door of the castle - church in Wittenberg, Germany. These 95 theses were protests against the severe abuses of the Roman church under the leadership of Pope Leo X. 
One of the things that Luther protested against was the "milking" of the German people by the Italian pope who wanted money to build the very expensive St. Peter's basilica in Rome. This was done was by the sale of indulgences in conjunction with the so called doctrine of purgatory.[1] Indulgences were a kind of promissory note from the pope that the person that purchased an indulgence would get their time in purgatory reduced. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory as ‘a final cleansing of human imperfections before one is able to enter the joy of heaven.’ We pray for the souls in Purgatory, especially during the month of November, to help them pass through to heaven faster than they would on their own.”  
So, when a member of the Catholic Church[2] dies   he or she first goes to purgatory - an intermediate state between earth and heaven.  Time in purgatory depends on the kind of life one has lived, whether one went to church regularly, did good works etc., plus the prayer of the living for the dead (especially in November[3]) to get them out there sooner.  It certainly is not marketed as a place where you want to be for a long time.

In Luther’s times the sale of indulgences for time off in purgatory was used to raise funds for the pope’s extravagant building projects in Rome.  Offering a financial way out of a guilty conscience remains a favourite tool by spiritual manipulators in our own day. People will spend a lot of money to relieve their guilty consciences. A Roman Catholic monk called Johan Tetzel (1465 – 1519) drove the indulgence agenda of the Roman Catholic church in Germany. He marketed the idea to ignorant and superstitious Germans and he coined the catch phrase, “As soon as the gold in the casket rings, the rescued soul to heaven springs.” [4] This was simply too much for Dr.Luther, a respected professor of the Catholic church. 
He said:  
"before long all the churches, palaces, walls and bridges of Rome will be built out of our money. First we should rear living temples, next local churches, and only last of all St Peter's, which is not necessary for us. We German's can't attend St Peter's… why doesn't the pope build the basilica out of his own money? He is richer than Croesus. He would do better to sell St Peter's and give the money to the poor folk who are being fleeced by the hawkers of indulgences." [5] 

Now this kind of sentiment expressed by Luther was shared by many a German.  In fact, the Italian leadership in Rome did not think much of the Germans, and so when bishop Albert of Mainz forwarded Luther's 95 theses to Rome, Pope Leo apparently said: "Luther is a drunken German. He will feel different when he is sober!"   He made light of Luther. Luther in turn referred to the Pope as an anti-Christ because he believed that term appropriate for anyone blocking people from freely coming to Christ without money and price (Isa. 55:1).

Luther’s main concern with the Roman Catholic teaching of purgatory and the sale of indulgences was that it undermined the free gift of God in salvation. It undermined the definite work of Christ on the cross for sinners, and therefore it is heretical.   Clearly, if you can save yourself from your sin in another way, then Christ’s death for sin becomes just an option, or even worse, His death on the cross becomes irrelevant.    Imagine for a moment that you could buy your way out of hell (or into heaven) by means of money!  So Luther began to demonstrate from the Scriptures that salvation was not something that could be given by human hands. The Scriptures clearly teaches that Christ ALONE had secured the salvation of all who would come to Him.  There can be no human aid or effort involved in the work of true removal of our guilt and sin. Salvation is from Christ the Lord   ALONE. Substituting the work of Christ for any other form of human scheming makes null the Word of God!

Now why do I tell you this story about pope, purgatory and indulgences? I want show you   that the problem and principle remain relevant in our own day.  Everything conspires against the work of God in Christ   for sinners. Everything conspires against that which God has written for us in His holy Word.   But right now, I want to take you back to an example in the Bible in which biblical principles of Reformation are clearly seen.  In 2 Chronicles 34   we see what the rediscovery of an inspired piece of Scripture does in its day, bringing about a profound transformation.


34:1  “Josiah was 8 years old when he began to reign…”. Our story begins with an 8 year old boy born to an evil father Amon. Amon, his father was in fact assassinated by his servants after only 2 years in office. (2 Chron. 33:21-25).  Concerning Josiah[6] we read that “while he was yet a boy, he began to seek the God of David  his father, and in the 12th year  he began to purge  Judah  and Jerusalem of the high  places…” (vv. 3-7). Note then firstly, that the little boy–king had an early God- awareness, and it related to the faith of David, and we are told twice that he walked in the ways of David, his father (and not of Amon).  

In the first 7 verses we read of an outward, moral   reformation in which all the foreign gods and influences, undermining the faith and practise of Israel were removed under Josiah’s direction. Now there are many important things that one wants to say about Josiah, and I have been privileged to do some profitable reading concerning the times in which Josiah ruled. Incidentally, the prophet Jeremiah[7] prophesied concerning the impending doom of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile, but he is not mentioned here.   Yet from Jeremiah 22:15-16 we know that he commended Josiah (Jer.22:15) for his reforms. The prophet Zephaniah also make mention of him (Zeph.1:1).  

I simply  wish to  focus  on  Josiah’s  attempts  at reforming   the society of his day under the Word of God and the effects that this had  on his own generation.     
Following the  first  attempts  at reforming the nation which had fallen  into  deep sin as a result of the wicked reigns of Manasseh and Amon, in vv. 1-7, something deeper and profounder happens in vv. 8- 33. Josiah had given instructions to repair the temple, when in the process of the ‘clean–up’, “the Book of the Law (TORAH)”, was found in the temple (v.14). Thus began a period of reform that lasted until the death of Josiah (v.33).  

So what we see in vv. 22-33 is an earnest attempt to deal with the Word of God. I remind you that at the heart of the Torah is the teaching found in Deuteronomy 5 and 6 - the Shema, the summary of the greatest commandment in Deut.  6:1-9, as expounded in the 10 commandments of the preceding Chapter (Deut. 5:1-33).   These two chapters have taught God’s people to always love God supremely and from this, to also love our fellow man. To that end we have been created to glorify God.  And it wasn’t happening in Israel. The Law of God was clearly forgotten, and   the regular worship of God in the temple was neglected. The temple was in a bad state of repair. Evil and idolatry flourished instead.   And Josiah was greatly disturbed and he understands the consequences as laid out in v.25. The  young king’s repentance brought about  a word of comfort by the prophetess Huldah,   and  with it  followed temporary reprieve and assurance  from the Lord  (vv. 27,28)  and the  subsequent reforms are recorded for us in verses  29-33.

At the heart of this chapter we  find  that  the  Book of the Covenant was read to all,  both great and small (v.30). The covenant was reaffirmed, and a new commitment was made to perform the words of the covenant, and the results  are seen  in v.33. Josiah was faithful in his day, and he really helped his own generation to fear and obey the Lord. That, dear people  is  our great responsibility.  Each generation needs reformation under the Word of God. Each generation needs to be reminded  anew  that we can only be saved  from our ongoing  problem  of sin and continual backsliding  when we are brought under the  Word of God which  ALONE  will save us.  It alone  can restore health and healing to our  idolatrous  society.

So what do we learn from Josiah’s  and Luther’s Reformation ?

1.   God must work by giving us a catalyst.  God gave us many catalysts in biblical history and church history. They were instruments of bringing society back from the brink of spiritual apostasy   followed  by man made disaster.  We have recently shared  with you a cross section of Reformation Cameos – people who  were used by God as catalysts  in their respective environments, and often beyond. Pray  that God would give us godly leaders, such as Josiah and Luther  to lead us out of this mess that was created by our fathers  and forefathers.   

2.     There needs to be a desire to see our environment reformed.   It is no good hearing the Bible read and explained, but nothing done about it.  Josiah  and Luther worked hard  to remove the idolatrous  stumbling blocks of the  societies in their  day  and real change followed.

3.     Central to our Reforms  needs to be the Word of God.   Note, it is when the Word of God is read   and explained that deep-seated conviction occurs. The Reforms   brought about by the Word of God need to have  the following effects :

 ·       A real response to the Word of God- not just lip service.
 ·       Real repentance for our faithlessness to God and a real desire to go forward in obedience. If we are never moved to change when reading the Bible, then let us search our souls, and ask ourselves why we are not able to respond in obedience.  
 ·      Real humility.  We need to see ourselves as God sees us.  The Bible helps us to maintain that perspective that produces proper humility before God.  
 ·    Real Worship of God and Christ in the Holy Spirit.   Heartfelt, glad, habitual   worship from a heart that has been set free by God to serve Him, replacing the  idol worship (the replacement of God)   in which we  have learned to indulge..  
 ·       Real Reformation for old and young.  Josiah assembled both, the young and the old to hear the Word of God. Children must  hear the Word . They must not be kept out of the   church where   the Word is preached. Pastors must learn to communicate the Word of God to young and old alike. 
 ·   Real comprehensive Reformation of society. Reformation brings about not only spiritual changes, but moral changes, resulting in political and societal changes. A great example of this is the 18th century Reformation under the preaching of men like George Whitefield. In our own country the ministry of a man like Martin Rautanen had a similar effect among the Oshiwambo people.  Josiah saw this in his day. So did Luther.  So did many others. Why not we?  We have seen some very positive changes in our Baptist Churches in  Namibia. Let us call out to God for more substantial  changes.

In Summary – the 5 SOLA’s of the Reformation  : A real  Bible ; a real Christ ; real Grace , real Faith – a God really glorified!  

A Prayer : Psalm 85 :1-7

[1] 1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. 1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.
[2] Any  person baptised  by the RC Church is considered a member , and in their eyes this cannot be undone.
[3] All Souls Day – 2st November : praying for all the souls that have not yet reached heaven; All Saints Day on 1st November is  celebrating those  who have already entered into heaven.
[4]  Altes Deutsch : “Sobald der G├╝lden im Becken klingt,  im huy die Seel im Himmel springt“ [Hochdeutsch: “Sobald das Geld im Kasten klingt, die Seele in den Himmel springt!“]
[5] Roland Bainton: Here I stand, p.63 (Hendrickson Publishers)
[6] reigned for thirty-one years, from 641/640 to 610/609 BC. He is also one of the kings mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew
[7] Jeremiah 1:1

Monday, October 23, 2017

TEXT: Genesis 19: 30-38 “The Sad Results Of Poor Decision Making”

Here we are again. Another a very sad story, and another  very difficult  text to preach on  – not one that I would have chosen  to preach on, if I had my way. But  the Bible  holds us accountable, and we  must  deal with every issue as it presents itself , and with the help of the Holy Spirit who caused this to be written down for our sake, we must seek to  understand what this  means  for our own day and  times.  
In a nutshell then,  our portion of Scripture  presents us with  a  thoughtful study  on the nature  and results of pathetic and  shallow and self- willed  thinking, driven  by a  form of living that feeds on short term gratification and based  on a lack of godly reflection, resulting in devastating long term consequences.

We have   previously seen that Abraham’s nephew, Lot, had chosen to live in Sodom, one of a number of cities at that time known by God for sustained patterns of sexual immorality, and a wide acceptance of the practise of homosexuality in particular. Although he was not guilty of the sins of the men of Sodom, Lot had chosen to live there. 2 Peter 2:7,8 tells us that  Lot was actually a righteous man, and we cannot argue with the assessment of Scripture.  We know that he actually defended the angelic visitors against homosexual rape. He told the people of Sodom not to act so wickedly (19:7)….”He was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds…” (2 Pet. 2:8)

But the fact remains that he and his family had settled into a comfortable mode here, and therefore were liable to the temptation of compromise. Many Christians struggle with this   tendency. The Bible warns us repeatedly to flee temptation. But the heart wants what the heart wants.  And so we find that his daughters, who clearly did not share their father’s sensitivity to sin, were to be married to men of that city. When the angels of judgement urged them and their prospective husbands to get out of the city   because the LORD God was going to send a devastating destruction upon it, they chose to stay. Likewise, Mrs Lot, whilst dutifully fleeing with her husband and daughters, kept looking back, for her heart was still in Sodom, and the Bible tells us that she too perished.

In the end, only Lot and his two daughters escaped. Whilst Lot had it in his mind to escape to a little town called Zoar (19:20), we are told that he and his daughters never actually settled in Zoar, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. 
Why was he afraid to live there? Well, Zoar was essentially like the cities that perished in this great judgement, and this city escaped by God’s mercy alone. It seems most likely then that he thought that Zoar was going to meet the same fate in time, and so Lot and his two daughters, out of fear chose not to live there, but instead  they went to live in a cave, away from the city.  Fear, incidentally is never a good motivation for living wisely.  Fear makes us insecure, and we easily become candidates for making bad choices. This is what happened in Lot’s case.   It happened in the case of Abraham. We saw it in   12: 10-20 when Abraham, as a result of the drought went down to in Egypt, and when he feared that Pharaoh would kill him on account of his beautiful wife, Sarah. We shall see the same thing happening again in Chapter 20, when Abimelech takes Sarah for himself, because Abraham said that she was his sister. There was clearly something in Sarah’s appearance that made her very attractive, even in her older years.

Back in the cave, and in the meantime Lot’s daughters began to think about their future – about having a family, and then they thought that there was no future. All they had was their old father, and so they schemed. And then the unthinkable happened.  They schemed to get him drunk and then to lie with him, to get an offspring for themselves by this ungodly means.   John Calvin comments, “It is true that they were not so much motivated by sensual lust as a foolish desire to procreate their family.”[1]

Under the influence of alcohol, convictions and morals and inhibitions crumble. Immoral conduct becomes more likely when alcohol is involved. We see this in our city. Most car accidents are caused by drunken driving.  People are routinely stabbed and killed in nightclubs where alcohol liberally flows. Wife abuse, husband abuse, child abuse is accentuated when alcohol is involved.  There is a connection between drunkenness and sexual immorality. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, and people lose control, and it leads to all sort of long term problems.

You will remember that a similar thing happened to Noah (Gen. 9: 18—29). He planted a vineyard, made wine, and became so drunk, that he lost his sense of modesty and he was found lying exposed and naked in his tent. When his son Ham   found Him in this condition it seems that Ham made fun of his father before his brothers.  His brothers Shem and Japheth by contrast dared not look at their father’s exposed body and instead they covered him respectfully.   There are some parallels here. Both men were delivered by God from their ungodly societies. Both had escaped the judgement of God upon their societies, and both fell into the sin of drunkenness following their deliverance.     
So here they are - Lot’s daughters, thinking about their future, thinking no further than their own noses. But then again,  we  are forced to think about their father. Righteous man that he was, for he was justified by God, yet he was an unprincipled father figure. He chose to live in Sodom, and he was not opposed for his girls to marry men from Sodom. What was worse however is that when the safety of his angelic guests was at stake he had even offered his daughters   to this mob of  sexual perverts  (19:8). 
What does this do to the thought life of a young woman? My father was willing to give me up!  He was prepared to sacrifice me to those beasts!   
And thus begins the vicious chain of abuse. The abused becomes an abuser in turn. One sin leads to another. And now the daughters are not thinking about their father’s honour.  Because he didn’t think about their honour!  He was sacrificing them  on the altar  of a misplaced perspective  on honour  and hospitality,  and now they,  in turn, were  willing to sacrifice a good conscience before God and man for the sake of their idolatrous desire of having a family at any means. In that sense they were actually no different to Abraham and Sarah,  when they used devious means to get children for themselves. They were unwilling to trust God for an outcome. That is always the danger when we want something and when we  want it NOW…. In that process we easily sacrifice God given principles, and this  leads to the danger of making poor choices that have negative and long term effects.

This is a plain warning to all of us who are fathers of daughters. We dare not make little of our daughters’ honour and purity.  Fathers, cherish your daughters and protect them from this oversexualised society. Teach them to love purity. We must not become a stumbling block to them in this regard; otherwise they will count their lives as cheap and disposable.  And be jealous about whom they will marry, without being overbearing.

In this passage we have a sobering reminder of what happens when we are not careful about the company that we keep. It has an impact upon our children. Where we live, and how we respond to evil, and our own spiritual commitments - all of these things are vital in the spiritual formation of our children. Our moral environment significantly influences our lives.  “Bad company ruins good morals” [1 Cor. 15:33].  For this reason the Bible exhorts us to have fellowship with believers of like faith. So this passage reminds us again of the result of the worldly environment in which Lot's daughters had been raised. And they embraced that form of thinking (and not godly reflection) when they became desperate.

Was there another way out? Yes of course.  But they did not think of asking the same LORD that just had delivered them from such a great destruction, to provide husbands for them.  And they could have left that cave and gone to their uncle Abraham.  They must have known that he was living not far from them.  But pride always gets in the way. And   this is the way with worldly young people. They do not want to be found in the company of their religious family.  Perhaps it was too convicting. Maybe they even resented him. Maybe their uncle Abraham even had previously spoken to them about not marrying those boys from Sodom. Who knows?  I know that this is a conjecture, but there is a reason why they did not settle with Abraham.  They did not share the faith of Abraham.  And so we see that there was clearly no godly desire in them, as seen in the next few verses…

VV 36-38 : “ Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. The firstborn bore a son and called him Moab (which means, ‘from the father’) . He is the father of the Moabites to this day. The younger also bore a son  and called his name  Ben-ammi  (which means  ‘son of my close relative’ ) . He is the father of the Ammonites to this day.” 

Now, what were the consequences of this?  ‘In that cave the impregnation was all over in a few minutes but the legacy of what happened there lasted a thousand years’, says Geoff Thomas.  From our reading if the OT Scriptures  we  understand that  the  Moabites and the Ammonites,  the extended family of the children  of Abraham, Israel  became some of their  cruellest and  bitterest enemies, just like the sons of Ishmael, born to the illegitimate union between Hagar and Abraham , who became sworn enemies of Israel.  
And so we read for instance that when Israel left Egypt and asked Moab permission to pass through their land on their journey to the promised land, they were refused and resisted (See Numbers 22-24). As a result the Lord pronounced judgement upon Moab. When Israel camped in the plains of Moab  and ready to cross the Jordan their men were seduced by Moabite women and they began to sacrifice to Baal the god of the Moabites ( Numbers 25:1).  They were a great stumbling block to Israel.
The Ammonites worshipped the idol god Molech. Molech worship included child sacrifice. Leviticus 18:21 warns Israel:  "Neither shall you give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am the Lord."

The Moabites and Ammonites also raided Israel in the time of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah and again in the days of the prophet Elisha.  So, the grandsons of Lot did not become friendly cousins, a blessing, but a curse to Israel. 

A last word about Lot.  He disappears from the scene, never to be heard of again. Matthew Henry says this about Lot: "From the silence of scripture concerning Lot henceforward, we may learn that drunkenness, as it makes men forgetful, so it makes men forgotten; and many a name, which otherwise might have been remembered with respect, is buried by it in contempt and oblivion." That's a sad thought. Even though he was a righteous man in his generation, his convictions did not translate into wise family leadership, and so the consequences are that his family line descends into evil, and we take note of the judgment of God against sin.

And yet we find grace in the midst of this mess, and we must not fail to see this.   In the providence of God we find that centuries later a woman comes out of Moab.  Her name was Ruth, and the story of Ruth lives on in a book of the Bible. She eventually married a Jew called Boaz, and to them was born Obed, and of Obed was born Jesse the father of king David.  And of this line Jesus was born, our eternal King, made incarnate by the will of God. He was born to Joseph and Mary, both descendants of David.   Again Geoff Thomas says: “Through the umbilical cord that attached Jesus to Mary, the line of our Lord goes back …to this cave and to a drunken righteous man and his scheming immoral daughters.” 
And, remember, each one of us, this is where Jesus found us,  when He found us … ‘fast bound in sin and nature’s night’ (Charles Wesley: ‘And can it be)’. 
Jesus came to redeem sinners, and we shall discover that nobody will be found in heaven that deserves to be there, but because of the tender mercy of our God.  

We thank God that we may see His grace even in the midst of such  utter  sin and unbelief, and we thank Him once again for  for such  a severe mercy. Amen

[1]  John Calvin : Genesis, Crossway Publications, p.186